Are you getting ready for a long road trip or plane trip with your toddler? There are lots of toddler travel activities that can keep your young children happy and having so much fun (even if they have a short attention span) on your next trip.
Screen time is a popular choice for a long trip, but if you are wanting to avoid having your toddler watch a show for a long time or if it doesn’t keep your child’s attention we have great options for low mess travel activities to get you started.
Storage Ideas for Travel with Kid
Ziplock bags are always an option for storing different activities and snacks. We also like soap containers from the dollar store. They are the perfect size for crayons, card games, play dough, and special treats. They are especially helpful if you are going to road trip with kids by yourself.
Zippered pouches are also a great way to store different activities. They fit small toys and different themed items for imaginative play for your busy toddler. These pouches are an easy way to group items and switch activities quickly.
Great Airplane Activities for Toddlers
Airplane travel, whether it’s a long flight or short flight with a toddler can seem overwhelming or scary. Here are the best activities that will keep your toddler occupied for as much time as possible.
Sticky Notes are one of my best tips for a plane ride because they are great for different ages and they don’t take up much room. Who knew that sticky notes would be one of the best travel toys!
Toddlers will have a great time drawing on them and sticking them everywhere (on the tray table and windows) just for fun. Draw different shapes on them and put them on the seat. Tell your child, “Pull down the square. Find the circle.”.
Water Bottle and Pom Poms
Pennies and a Container
Cut a slit into the lid of a small baby food container and drop cleaned pennies into the container like a bank. Count the pennies, shake them, practice taking the lid on and off. I’ve also used poker chips for this activity if your child isn’t ready for the small size of the pennies.
Pictures and Tape
Fill a coupon file folder or envelope with random pictures cut from magazines. Pull them out, name them, put them back in. Bring tape and stick them in a notebook. This is a fun vocabulary activity and you will be surprised at how much fun your toddler has pulling the pictures out.
Stickers and a Notebook
Fill a small notebook with random stickers. The freedom of this activity and the amount of time it takes is the beauty of it! I use a mini notebook because it takes up less room in my bag and is easier for my toddler to handle. Remember to take the background of the stickers off so only the stickers remain on the page. This makes it easier for little fingers to peel off each sticker. You cannot go wrong with this activity! This is our old favorite and is something that we did in the preschool years too.
Gel window clings are awesome to bring along. They are easy to pack because they are flat and your toddler will have a great time taking them off and sticking them all over the window, seat, and tray. It is a low mess activity that nobody will mind. When your child is done playing with them independently, play a game like “Find the red shape. Where is the big heart?” to keep your child engaged.
Barf Bag Puppets
Have a little bit of fun and get silly with the barf bags. Use a marker and turn them into puppets. Talk to each other with the puppets.
DIY Travel Play Sets
Make a DIY travel play set with your toddler’s favorite little thing. Add a piece of felt and a couple of foam pieces for a fun way to play. The size of this mint tin also fits a peg person and different pieces of fabric or felt to pretend with (fairy theme or family theme). This is a great travel toy!
An idea for older toddlers is a DIY Lego Travel Play set. Add magnets to the back of a few larger pieces and let the creativity begin.
Best Road Trip Activities for Toddlers
Being stuck in a car seat for a long car ride is hard for young kids (and older kids too).
Magnets and a Cookie Sheet
You can make anything a magnet and pair it with a magnetic cookie sheet! From simple puzzles and shapes to pictures of animals and characters, toddlers will move and manipulate the magnets for a long time. This is also great for vocabulary development. “Can you find the pig?” “You’re right, that is a circle.” Check out our free printable magnetic Mr. Potato Head.
Putting the finger puppets on, taking them off, and having them talk to each other is an activity your toddler will visit over and over again. Plus they are soft if they get thrown or dropped.
Color Wonder Markers are a great option for toddlers and are low mess. Otherwise a simple coloring book and notebook along with one crayon or marker is all you need. A magic eraser gets crayon marks off of different surfaces.
Dot Stickers and Paper
Both are from the dollar store. Working with Stickers is great for fine motor skills too. The great thing about dot stickers (often used in garage sales) is that they don’t have a border around them so they are easy for little fingers to peel off. If you choose other stickers, peel off the background of the stickers so they are easier to peel off and there is space between each one.
Toy cars are a simple thing to bring along and they can be driven along a cookie sheet or along the car seat. Put them in a zippered pouch for organization.
Car Game for Toddlers
“Here comes a car. What color is it?” or “Here comes a blue car!”. This great game is simple and distracts toddlers from the long wait. Looking for big trucks is another game your toddler will get excited about. It sounds simple I know, but it works.
A Present an Hour
This travel tip is actually for kids of all ages, not only younger kids. Stock up on dollar spot items and dollar store finds to gather a few things you know your child will like and will keep them busy for a bit. Then, wrap up each one and let your kids open one every hour.
It keeps it exciting and it is actually a great visual for how much time is left on the trip by looking at how many presents there are left to open. Think simple items like a reusable sticker books, toy cars, or a character or doll to pretend with. This is great for a little quiet time in the car because it is something new your child hasn’t played with yet.
Travel Snacks for Toddlers
When you are traveling with toddlers you can never be without snacks! Pack your child’s favorite snacks and then also a few dum dum suckers. They are a special treat that is great for take off and landing on a plane and also for some quiet time in the car. Snacks just seemed to distract my toddler in the fussiest of times so they are a great idea. Stopping for food? Here’s how to keep a child occupied in a restaurant.
Learning on the Go with Your Toddler
Learning is happening with your toddler all of the time and no matter where you are. I was clearly reminded of this as we traveled over the holidays. Obviously, I didn’t have any formal learning activities planned during this time of fun and family (at Disney World!), but I was struck by just how much learning was taking place.
Here are a few things that I noticed my toddler was learning during our time away. Anything that seems like an actual “activity” or game was created on the spot out of sheer desperation of trying to occupy a toddler without my usual tools of the trade! Hopefully these will encourage you to notice all the fascinating things your toddler is learning everyday, whether they are intentional or not!
While driving down the interstate, my daughter became fascinated by the cars that passed us (okay, that we passed…) on the road. I started calling out the colors and type of vehicles as we drove by – “here comes a blue truck!” – which apparently is much more exciting than I would have ever anticipated. After a few minutes of this game we branched out to “can you see a red car?” style entertainment as she would point out the vehicles herself. This killed a good 15 minutes of road time!
Animals and Animal Sounds
Some of this was from exploring the various theme parks we visited, but a lot of it just came from singing countless verses of “Old MacDonald” or pointing out animals in our books (or in Beauty and the Beast for the 700th time in 200 miles). By the end of the trip she knew several new animals and their sounds.
Fine Motor Skills
As a last ditch attempt to keep her happy in her stroller as we waded through the multitudes at the parts, we let her play with an extra fastener on her stroller. She learned how to “click” the fastener (though fortunately not unclick) during our trek through the park. We would unclick it for her and she’d be right back at it. She got faster and faster as the day wore on.
Up and down, on and off, in and out – we said these things all day long! In your carseat, shoes on your feet, etc. She already knew some of these concepts, but they became a game when we needed them to. When playing in a hotel room got less than exciting, we would play the “up and down” game where she raised her hands when we said up and touched the floor when we said down. Super simple, no work on our part, but a huge hit with a toddler who needed some movement in a small space. Opening and closing doors was also pretty exciting.
We got to experience several different types of transportation that she doesn’t see in everyday life while we were traveling. She pointed out trains, airplanes, boats, and trucks that don’t usually pass by our front door. In the parks we got to ride some trains and “boats,” which she loved. (I’m pretty sure the parking lot tram was the highlight of her trip.)
Obviously my child has seen rain before, but when we are home, we try to avoid going out in it at all costs. When it started pouring in the Animal Kingdom, however, she got to experience rain in a new way and was fascinated! She put her hands out and kept saying “rain” over and over with a huge smile on her face. It was a new sensory experience for her for sure. We also talked about it being cold or hot and what clothes we needed in those situations.
After several days of watching us enter the hotel room, Sophie started unloading all of the cards from my mom’s wallet. She would take each one, one at a time, up to the hotel room door handle and hold it up. Then she would try the knob. She had figured out that each time we came to the door, we held up the key card before we opened the door. This one kind of floored me, to be honest. I was reminded of just how much she is watching every little thing we do! How humbling and kind of terrifying at the same time!
This was a lesson that was certainly not mastered by any of us, but we were provided with lots of opportunities for practice. My daughter learned the word “wait” as a result of this trip. Although she was certainly not as intrigued by these learning experiences as the others, it was an important lesson to have!
One of these waiting experiences resulted in my discovering a new restaurant activity in an attempt to squelch a tantrum. While sitting at a Cracker Barrel, Sophie’s patience had all but disappeared. I grabbed the container of sugar packets sitting on the table and started asking her to find a pink, yellow, or blue one. Then we sorted the packets by color. Then we took them in and out of the container. Those blessed sugar packets bought us the remaining ten minutes until our food arrived, and were great practice of all the things we usually plan to do at home.
While I enjoy planning learning opportunities for my toddler, it is so encouraging to be reminded that learning is everywhere, especially at this young and curious age!